Veterinarians continue to examine health effects of dogs deployed during 9-11 terrorist attacks - DVM
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Veterinarians continue to examine health effects of dogs deployed during 9-11 terrorist attacks
Ceremonies scheduled to honor canine first responders, search and recovery teams


National Report — As America marks the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, the country will remember the nearly 3,000 people killed that day in terrorist attacks, including many firefighters and police officers. Alongside those first responders was a special group of canine rescuers who also haven’t been forgotten.

Dr. Cynthia Otto is a board-certified emergency and critical care veterinarian and associate professor of critical care at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine. In September 2001, she was also a member of Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 and spent nine days at Ground Zero after the attacks. At the time, she was one of a large contingency of veterinarians that assembled to help in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“At the World Trade Center, there were 300 dogs doing detection, but there were also many therapy dogs at Ground Zero,” Otto says. “Overall, our canine response to the Sept. 11 attacks was (more than) 900 dogs. A lot of those dogs were there as therapy dogs for the workers and for the families and friends of the victims and were incredibly valuable for giving emotional support to them.”

Otto had been a member of the Pennsylvania task force since 1993 and prior to the Sept. 11 attacks had worked with detection dogs in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd. Thinking back to the morning of Sept. 11, she recalls her husband phoning to tell her a plane hit the World Trade Center and her first thought was that it was an accident.

“But it then became more clear this was an attack, and I knew it was evident our team was going to go. By 1 p.m. we knew we were deploying and we got there late at night on the 11th,” she says. “Going there from the 11th to the 19th made me realize so much about these dogs.”

Dogs, along with their handlers, were involved with search and rescue, recovery and security efforts at Ground Zero as well as at the Pentagon, Shanksville and the Fresh Kills Landfill recovery site. At Ground Zero, where Otto was assigned, the dogs were there to find live victims, but as it became sadly clear there weren’t going to be any, they instead turned their focus on the recovery of human remains, she says.

"The dogs were used to search all areas of Ground Zero in hopes of finding live victims," Otto says. "My job in the forward base of operations was to provide emergency medical care and assessment of dogs that were working. I regularly evaluated the dogs during times that they were to take breaks."

In late 2001, Otto and others formed the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which developed from the Sept. 11 tragedy. With funding from the American Kennel Club canine health foundation, as well as from Purina, Veterinary Pet Insurance and Fed Ex, the center began studying 95 dogs deployed on Sept. 11 as well as 55 control dogs.

"I knew when I was there that we needed to follow their health—and that funding has made it possible," she says. "The dogs are from all over the country so we have had the dogs visit their regular veterinarian and have blood drawn and X-rays taken annually."

Otto and others then analyze blood samples, a radiologist studies radiographs and the dog handlers complete annual health and behavior surveys. Of the 95 dogs who responded to Sept. 11, 77 have died, she says.

"We need to know the long-term effects for the sake of the dogs, as well as the sake of the human responders," she says. "If we can make it safer for the dogs from what we learn, that is key. But the dogs may also act as sentinels for the humans, given the shorter life span of the dogs.

"The center looks at the educating of people of what’s involved in the detection field," Otto adds. "This is the legacy of the dogs of Sept. 11. We saw what was missing ... There are so many aspects we look at—the health and genetics of these dogs, … and we can act as a real collaborative center with the AKC (and other groups) to help these dogs."

In addition to her other work, Otto is co-chair of Finding One Another: the 10th Anniversary Tribute to the Canine Search & Rescue Community of 9/11 along with Linda Blick, founder of the Tails of Hope Foundation. The Working Dog Recognition Ceremony, sponsored by Finding One Another, will take place at 12:45 p.m. Sunday in Liberty Park, NJ, just across the river from the World Trade Center.

The event will include a processional of canine working dogs and their handlers who served on Sept. 11 as well as current working dog teams.

"People saw the dogs out there. These dogs belonged to private citizens. When there was a national disaster, these dogs got called up," Otto says. "So much time and money go into them that is shouldered by the individual … we want to raise national awareness of what these dogs do and also of the research that there is for them going forward."

Of the more than 900 canine responders on Sept. 11, one, Sirius, was killed at the World Trade Center site. At the remembrance ceremony, the Sirius Courage Award will be given to Lt. David Lim, Sirius’ owner and a Port Authority police officer, as well as posthumously to the family of Naval Petty Officer First Class John Douangdara, who was killed with his canine partner Bart, in a helicopter crash in August in Afghanistan. The award also will be given posthumously to the family of Sgt. Zainah Caye Creamer, who was killed in January in Afghanistan and who became the first woman military dog handler to die in action.

A few days before the Sept. 11 anniversary, the Penn Vent Working Dog Center and Finding One Another also hosted the Working Dog Conference in Pearl River, New York to share the latest information to best help these dogs.

"We really need veterinarians to partner with these handlers so that these dogs stay healthy and safe," Otto says. "We need veterinarians to think about the research to be done and to attend these working dog conferences."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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